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MICHAEL BURTCH: ARTIST

SCULPTOR, MUSICIAN, WRITER, SET DESIGNER

SCULPTURE CONFLICT GALVANIZES COMMUNITY

 

BYJEFFREY OUGLER

The Sault Star


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so the adage goes.

Well, so is pubic hair, it that's what the observer is hell bent on seeing, contends Bill Slingsby.

Accusations that one of the fiberglass reinforced bronze sculptures removed Monday from the John Rhodes Centre sports, visible pubic hair are utterly absurd, says the president of the Arts Council of Sault Ste. Marie and District. He examined the work closely, photographing it last Saturday with a 200 millimeter lens, and has yet to detect anything that might resemble such a feature.

What appears as pubic hair to one witness can resemble lines to another, and the artist may not have intended either, Slingsby says.

"If it's your mind, then you're going to see it," he said Tuesday. "There's a fold on the lady's tummy, which is a natural fold. If that's supposed to be an outline of pubic hair, then she needs a barber."

on a more serious note, Slingsby said he joins the city's arts community in its rage...and embarrassment - regarding the brouhaha that the city's decision to remove the three statues and have them clothed has generated both locally and nationally, with front-page exposure in Monday's National Post and a feature spot on CBC Radio's As it Happens.

 

The reason it made the national news is that it can become very quickly a national issue," Slingsby said. "We're talking about censorship and if we set a precedent here, we're setting our country back 100 years.

"Even the cavemen had respect for art."

-Arts Council president Bill Slingsby

 

"Only in Sault Ste. Marie would we make it an issue of morality, whereas in other cities at least censorship is a thing of humour."

"Even the cavemen had respect for art."

There's been little humour in the blossoming debate over the city's decision to pull Michael Burtch's creation, Corpus Mobilis, from the municipally owned Elizabeth Street Building.

 

City staff contend the nude figures' presence has spawned a flurry of angry requests, mostly from individuals who patronize the facility, to have the statues pulled from their lofty perch on the facility's outside wall, their home for just over a week.

The arts community is crying censorship and ignorance, while the city maintains it didn't get good value for its $15,000, only two-thirds of which Burtch has seen to date.

The artist himself says there's little he can do, save for erasing a few lines that some critics charge represent pubic hair, to render that muscularly defined figures, depicting two females and one male, acceptable to nay- sayers. So, what should Burtch do to deliver a more suitable sample to the city?

Absolutely nothing, Slingsby says.

The statues are a fine work of art, he argues, something that the community should celebrate, not condemn.

The knee-jerk decision to remove them was by no means a testament to the overall mood of the community, but merely a reaction to the vocal beefs of a few, Slingsby says.

WORKERS remove the controversial statues from the John Rodes Centre Monday

And city hall swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker, he adds.

"It's a squeaky wheel situation and ultimately we do have a tendency to react rather than respond."

The arts council plans to respond - and not just vertically.

It invites everyone, both Burtch supporters and those opposed to the project, to submit their opinions, which the group will compile and then use to prepare a document to present to the city.

No timeframe has been placed on it's completion, however, Slingsby says the arts council will back Burtch and whenever its service is requested.

Despite all the negative publicity, Slingsby maintains the city's action has prompted the arts community to gel, injecting it with a much needed shot of solidarity.

"When an artist has a problem, they've always thought of themselves as just an individual fighting a machine," he said. "I've never seen anything galvanize the arts community the way this has."

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